Tag Archives: Mediterranean

What’s in a name

Migrant.

Refugee.

Immigrant.

Expat.

Alongside the usual froth over immigration figures blasting through the government’s nonsensical immigration target – to the extent that immigration figures are at their highest since 2005 – there’s a debate about what to call the people knocking at Europe’s door seeking sanctuary and a new life. Migrants or refugees? People?

First things first.

Britain’s immigration figures are high because the economy is recovering well (or at least better than our neighbours with the exception of perhaps Germany) and even if inequality is still a major problem – it’s a big draw for people. But immigrants are also part of the reason that Britain has this recovery.

We (migrants). Built. This.

“It is not a message that you will hear from many, if any, mainstream politicians but, as the government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has pointed out, mass migration has been a key factor fuelling Britain’s economic recovery.” – The Guardian, 27 August 2015.

And despite the government’s best efforts to foster a hostile environment for migrants, the world continues to turn, even if community relations are somewhat the poorer for the divisive rhetoric and measures. Even business says that the immigration cap is damaging for the economy. Nevertheless, this year will see yet another immigration bill tabled, hot on the heels of last year’s. I am not looking forward to seeing what fresh nonsense is put on the table and I can only salute those like Migrant Rights Network, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and Migrant Voice are doing to lobby for change.

(Interestingly, it also shows that Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare vandalism is primarily ideological. The recovery* is not happening because of punitive welfare sanctions, the bedroom tax or harassing the sick and disabled.)

Moving on from that topic before I break something…

Language matters. Al Jazeera was lauded for its stance on using the word “migrant” to describe the people crossing the Mediterranean. After all, it reasoned, the vast majority are asylum seekers. UNHCR figures show  an estimated 293,035 people crossed the Mediterranean so far this year.

2,440 were lost at sea.

The top 5 country nationalities were Syrian (43%), Afghan (12%), Eritrea (10%), Nigeria (5%), Somalia (3%) and other (27%).

Al Jazeera correctly identified that the word “migrant” is tainted:

“The umbrella term migrant is no longer fit for purpose when it comes to describing the horror unfolding in the Mediterranean. It has evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanises and distances, a blunt pejorative.”

Their decision prompted a lot of soul searching at the Independent, Channel 4 News and others news outlets. However, campaigning organisations, like the Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London (RAMFEL), Migrant Voice and Migrant Rights Network say that we should reclaim the word.

“By rejecting the term and using ‘refugee’ instead as a means of arousing the empathy and compassion we should be feeling towards these people, Al Jazeera gives credence to the illiberal voices telling us that migrants are not worthy of our compassion.” – Judith Vonberg, Migrant Rights Network.

I have been thinking about this. Language is not fixed and words are not confined to their dictionary definitions. We act upon language, conferring upon it depth and meaning. There is no doubt that migrant, perhaps as it’s so close to the word immigrant, is seen as a dirty word. Interestingly, it’s a word we use for Black and Brown people, not White people, who are tourists or expats. Let’s not pretend that has nothing to do with why this word, like the people it describes, is considered so problematic.

Migrants don’t just move countries. I have friends in London from Scotland, Wales, Leeds, Ireland. They’re migrants. Just like my friends from Uganda, Canada, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. If you move, you’re a migrant. And it’s a human enterprise to move in search of safety, or a better life. When it comes to the people crossing the Mediterranean, some are fleeing for their lives from war; others are fleeing poverty. The “economic migrant” is that second group that Vonberg identifies as the one we’re supposed to harden our hearts to. After all, poverty (in Iain Duncan Smith’s Britain and more broadly, in the neoliberal frame) is the fault of the poor. You’re not a winner. Your country may be dysfunctional but you should fix it. I’m not saying the solution to this is for everyone to up sticks and leave but I don’t have the right to sit as judge on jury on those that do. If it were my family, my life, what would I do?

I am an economic migrant. I came for study, I stayed to work. I changed categories. That’s life, we’re moving through categories. I also came on a plane, in comfort and safety because I had the choices available to me to do so. If you’ve had to take your life in your hands and put your body and perhaps your children’s bodies in a boat not knowing if you’re going to live or die — where’s the choice in that? Some people leave death behind them and don’t know if they’re going to make it to the other side of the water. That’s not a choice. That’s desperation. That’s a humanitarian crisis.

I agree with Al Jazeera, the word migrant has become reductive. And I agree with Vonberg, we shoud reclaim it. Media houses should try to be as accurate as possible when describing people – people.

I would like to see the end of the phrase “migrant crisis” though.  Migration is not a problem to be solved and yes, there is a crisis, but it’s a humanitarian one.

And perhaps one of compassion, too.

*such as it is. I mean, that’s another discussion.

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Mermaids and Sea shores

This morning I caught up with my Saturday paper. I love my weekend paper but it’s so big that I tend to read sections during the week as well. In the Guardian Review, Jeanette Winterson reviewed The World’s Wife, a collection by Carol Ann Duffy. I enjoy the work of both authors, so it was a real pleasure. As usual, I was struck by Winterson’s turn of phrase. She described poetry thus:

“Poetry is a pleasure.

Sometimes people say to me, “why should I read a poem?” There are plenty of answers, from the profound – a poem is such an ancient means of communication that it feels like an evolutionary necessity – to the practical; a poem is like a shot of espresso – the fastest way to get a hit of mental and spiritual energy.

We could talk about poetry as a rope in a storm. Poetry as one continuous mantra of mental health. Poetry as the world’s biggest, longest-running workshop on how to love. Poetry as a conversation across time.”

She’s right. Later in my day I would stumble across a work by one of my favourite poets, Hollie McNish, Mermaids and Sand (Ocean Floor)As the best art points us towards truth, she highlights the compassion deficit in Europe towards those who die on the seas trying to make it to safety. The International Organization for Migration announced last week the the numbers last year topped 170,000. Syrians were the most numerous, followed by Eritreans.

“The emergency is not in the number of people involved or a risk that they will overburden Europe, a bloc of countries with a population of about 500 million people…the emergencies are the conflicts, instability and great uncertainty in a number of countries close to Europe, which people are fleeing. If we put these numbers in perspective, we’ll see that Turkey is hosting about 1.8 million Syrian refugees, and Lebanon (a very small country of 4 million people) is dealing with over one million.”

“We say go back. There’s no space for you here.” – Hollie McNish

 

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#dontletthemdrown

Check it out: I wrote about the #Dontletthemdrown campaign for Media Diversified.

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For Shame

There’s a lot of talk about British values in the air at the moment. Apparently, this is all about anything UKIP want or endorse. It seems to involve a lot of dog-whistling and some downright blunt scaremongering. So no to immigration, no to human rights, anything that’s populist is popular and apparently right. Well, when it’s right-wing, certainly.

And these are the fruits of this small politics, this inward-looking, anxious, grasping tree that offers no shade to the most vulnerable in society:

The poor forced to steal or rely on foodbanks. Aditya Chakraborty wrote a blunt, hard-hitting piece on this today:

“All the other instances that police from Lancashire to south London cite as one of their growing crime areas: of people stealing to eat because they can’t afford basics.

If this sounds humdrum, that’s what austerity Britain is: humdrum, run-of-the-mill immiseration. Greece gets austerity imposed upon it by Brussels and Berlin, and Athens goes up in flames. But the British choose a government that imposes cuts – and then the poorest are forced either to steal, or to beg from this decade’s other great phenomenon: food banks.”

The UK axes support for Mediterranean migrant rescue operation. Apparently, this is to reduce the “pull” factor to the UK of helping desperate people stop from drowning. This, when half the world, from Syria to Libya, is more or less on fire. When the majority of refugees are actually taken in by neighbouring countries, more often by developing nations. We have plenty. History will judge us for looking to our own at a time like this – especially when our share of the burden is so small.

“The British government seems oblivious to the fact that the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the second world war.

“People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life-rings; boarding a rickety boat in Libya will remain a seemingly rational decision if you’re running for your life and your country is in flames. The only outcome of withdrawing help will be to witness more people needlessly and shamefully dying on Europe’s doorstep.

“The answer isn’t to build the walls of fortress Europe higher, it’s to provide more safe and legal channels for people to access protection.”

These are not British values. The narrow, diminished, uninspired and isolationist little island mentality of UKIP does not speak for me. But they certainly seem to have sway with the establishment.

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